Erin Spencer - flute expert

How to Check Your Flute Headcork

Very useful tips for all flutists

In this video, Erin shows you how to work with your flute's headcork for maximum flute performance.

Released on March 4, 2020

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hello, this is Erin Spencer back for another video here. I'm the flute expert at Virtual Sheet Music. And today, we are going to talk about how to check your head cork on your flute.

I have, here with me, head joints from all four of my flutes that I have ever had in my life, I still have all of them. So some of them have been maintained well and I've kept them up. And then, my first two flutes, not so much. So this is great because we have an example of what your head cork should be like. And examples of what your head cork should not be like.

If you were not aware, this space up here is not just empty. When you put your cleaning rod in it stops about here, and that's because there's actually kind of like a wine bottle cork in your head joint. Since it's a natural material, cork, it can expand, contract with humidity and temperature. And, just, over time it needs to be replaced, usually, around once a year to once every two years you will need to replace your head cork. If you do not replace it, basically, you're leaking air out your head joint, which is not good, right? Our keys leaking affects our sound and so does our head cork.

So I'm not going to take my head cork of my good flute out, but if your head cork is functioning correctly, this is what you should experience. If you take your cleaning rod and you insert it into the head joint, not the end that has your cleaning cloth, but the end that has the little line on it, that should line up with the middle of the tone hole. It should be right smack dab in the middle. Larger instruments make lower sound. Smaller instruments make higher sounds, so if your head cork has shrunk and it's too far this way, then you will tend to be flat. And if your head cork has expanded, that's not as common in my experience, but if your head cork's too far this way, then you will be sharp because your instrument is too short and too small.

So just to visualize this a little bit more, this is normally sitting in your flute like this. And then, if you're checking it with the cleaning rod it comes up like that and hits the bottom, this bottom metal piece. And that's why you can see the line here in the tonal. So, that should line up right in the middle. And this part, the crown of your flute, sometimes students, middle-schoolers especially, will mess with the crown of their flute a lot because it's kind of fun to twist it around. It doesn't feel like it's really impacting anything, but it absolutely can mess with the placement of your head cork. So if it comes just like naturally a little bit loose, that's not the end of the world, but you should not be able to just keep twisting it. So like if I push mine it stops and it meets resistance. And that's what should happen because your head corks should be tight enough that it's creating a seal, and it should not freely move.

If I take one of my older ones, this is my very first flute that I got in fifth grade, I can just keep twisting the crown and it'll keep going forever because the cork is just super loose in there, so that should not happen. It should be nice and tight. So, ideally, crown does not twist forever, and the line on your cleaning rod, again, should be in the middle. If your head cork does need replacing, it might look like this. Again, this is my first flute. When I put in the cleaning rod it's way up there at the top. See that? Not good. That means the cork has shrunk. And, like I said before, I can just keep twisting this crown forever and it won't stop.

I am going to show you guys this head cork. So this head cork is clearly pretty old. It's probably, at least, 10 years old. It has shrunk. It does not take up all this space anymore and it has also shrunk, if you can see, it has also shrunk this way so it doesn't take up the full width of this right here. And this is the crown. So if my fingers are the head joint, this could just keep spinning and it's leaking air out there like nobody's business. If I put my head cork back in my flute, which is way too easy, it should not be that easy to do, again, it's still way too far out.

Now, this is my second flute that I got in like seventh or eighth grade. And, similarly, the line on the cleaning rod is way, way, way, way far up there. Let's take a look at this head cork. Ooh, we're going to compare the head cork from my first flute to the head cork from my second flute. Okay, second flute, first flute. Look how different these are in size. And it's just ridiculous how different the corks themselves are.

So another thing to note about this is you cannot use just any cleaning rod to check any flute. Some cleaning rods the line is not going to be accurate at all for any flute. And then, some brands, the cork will need to be in a slightly different place. If you have a good flute like a Powell, a Miyazawa, a Sankyo, a Trevor James, Altus, Brannen, Burkart, any of those brands your cleaning rod will be correct. But if you have, maybe like, a student flute or your cleaning rod did not come with your flute and you got it separately you should probably have somebody else check it, if you think your head cork might be out.

Now, let's take a look at my third flute that I got my senior year of high school. This is a Miyazawa. If I put my cleaning rod in, looks good. It's right in the middle. This flute has not been as well maintained, but if I twist the crown, there we go, I finally met resistance, but it took quite a while now. And now that I screwed it in this is completely up, now that I fixed the crown, now that the crown's tight. So if that happens it means your cork has shrunk and it needs replacing. If it starts out fine, but then when you tighten the cork it goes out your head cork has shrunk and it needs replacing. You should not be able to twist it that far and kind of suck the cork up there. So I would need to replace the head cork on this.

The good news is if you need a new head cork it's a very affordable repair. Typically, like 10 to $15 to get a new head cork. Super easy for the tech to fix it, super cheap for you. If your flute has a lot of things wrong with it, but you can't really afford to fix everything your head corks is a great place to start because it will affect every single note. If you have a leaky key it might only affect some notes. If you have a head cork that needs replace every single note you're leaking air up there at your head cork, it's not functioning correctly. So it's a great choice to fix, if you only have a little bit of money to put towards repairing your flute, your head cork can make a big difference. In my experience, my head cork affects my high register the most and leaks in my keys affects my low register the most. But your head cork truly does affect everything.

So I have a student right now who has just a ridiculously leaky flute and we're just fixing her head cork for now while we work towards getting the rest of it fixed. I didn't even know about head corks, or that I was supposed to check it, and get it maintained until I was in like my sophomore year of college. No one had ever mentioned it. And, definitely, my head cork was in awful shape. So get an annual COA please, please, please with a good flute tech.

I personally always mail mine to Paul Harrington at Flute Arts. This is in no way sponsored by him. I just have had great experiences with him and his assistant. I get my flute back faster shipping it to Alabama than I do taking it to someone local. So I ship mine to him. It costs a little bit more money, but he's always done really great work for me on my flute and my piccolo, so highly recommend him. Or Flute World, Flutist Street, whatever company you bought your flute from, if it's like a Powell or a Burkart send it to them and they will definitely take great care of it. But your head cork does need replaced. It is a thing that needs to happen every year or two. And for me, living in Colorado, it's pretty dry, and we get pretty cold temperatures so then your head corks may need replaced more often than if you live somewhere warm and humid.

Let me know if you have any questions down in the comments below and I will see you guys next time. Bye.
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